About etiquetteer.com

Etiquetteer is known socially as Robert B. Dimmick. A native of Louisiana, Mr. Dimmick emigrated North for education, finally settling in that Athens of America, Boston, Massachusetts.

Mr. Dimmick spent his childhood attending weddings, reading Emily Post’s Etiquette, and being teased and taunted by other children for minding his mother, taking everything the preacher said seriously, and generally being a Good Boy. This ultimately led to an aversion to organized sports, television, and popular culture in general, and definite opinions about everything from restaurant dining to wedding dresses to historic preservation. Mr. Dimmick believes in the sartorial legacy of President Harry S Truman, getting out of the way of oncoming traffic quickly, and the tasteful expression of free speech. He is, all too often, willing to express an opinion on just about anything.

By day, Mr. Dimmick plans class reunions for one of those great big universities. By night he enjoys club openings, dinner parties, memoirs of the Fabulous, yoga, the music of the American songbook, and spirited conversation with friends. He invites you to behave with Perfect Propriety whether you want to or not.


Condolences and National Card and Letter Writing Month, Vol. 14, Issue 19

April 25th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

Is the term, “I’m sorry” an appropriate response upon hearing of a death in the family of a friend? I see so much of that on Facebook, while I had thought that extending sympathy or condolences would be a more proper response.

Dear Condoling:

Your query shows a discerning attitude about how we use language, which Etiquetteer can only admire and wish more people would adopt. This led Etiquetteer to examine more closely the definition of “sorry.” For a moment Etiquetteer thought the word might imply personal responsibility for what one was sorry for. As it turns out, one definition is “”Feeling regret, compunction, sympathy . . . ” and another is “suggestive of grief or suffering,” so Etiquetteer can say that “I’m sorry” is an appropriate response to the news of a death. I’m sorry.

Now, is it the most appropriate response? Like you, Etiquetteer would rather see “My condolences” or “My sympathies” used instead, because those words are more specific to the occasion. “I’m sorry” is used every time an apology is made. One cannot say “My condolences for forgetting to attend your birthday dinner,” for instance. And online, “I’m sorry” looks rather like a throwaway comment, which (Etiquetteer must hasten to add before the brickbats fly) is surely not the intent of those commenting.

Etiquetteer remains ambivalent about online condolences, whether on social media or through the online guest books of funeral homes. This is not to say that such things aren’t, or can’t be, Proper; this only reflects Etiquetteer’s ambivalence. Condolences serve two purposes: to express sympathy to the bereaved by sharing positive thoughts and memories of the deceased; and, through the act of thoughtful writing, to assist oneself through the grieving process. What is attractive about expressing sympathy online is its immediacy, and the swift expression of condolences remains a very important part of expressing them. But the pitfalls of Immediate Online Expression are thoughtlessness and indiscretion on one side, and the consciousness of writing for a larger audience than the bereaved on the other. This last can sometimes lead to – how to say it? – an Escalation of Histrionics that becomes less about the impact of the deceased and more about the individual grief of each commenter. Just as it is improper to steal the spotlight from the bride at a wedding, so is it improper to steal the spotlight from the deceased. Often that form of writing is best left to one’s personal, offline journal.


Etiquetteer learned only recently that April is National Card and Letter Writing Month. Considering the query above, it’s essential to note that online comments on a message board do not replace the need for a handwritten condolence note. Nor will Etiquetteer accept the complaint that this is stuffy and old-fashioned. If anything, the understandable rush to adopt online communications has made handwritten letters and notes that much more significant and special to the recipients! The Lovely Note of Thanks (especially for wedding gifts), the Get Well Card, and even the Letter for No Reason give us opportunities for creativity and thoughtfulness unavailable online, because the audience is the Recipient Alone. And the thrill of seeing an envelope in one’s mailbox that isn’t a bill or junk mail remains fresh.

Unfortunately Etiquetteer has mailed exactly two handwritten pieces of correspondence this month. Let’s all do better than that in the remaining week of National Card and Letter Writing Month, and in the months beyond!


Today is the last official day to vote in Etiquetteer’s Spring Madness of Pet Peeves, and my goodness, what is to come afterward . . . This round determines the champion pet peeve in each division. NEXT week we’ll see the divisions compete against each other: Weddings vs. Driving and Traffic, and Dining Out/Table Manners vs. General Peeves! So far these look like difficult choices. Please vote today!

Round II Results, Etiquetteer’s Spring Madness of Pet Peeves, Vol. 14, Issue 17

April 21st, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Last week’s voting in Etiquetteer’s Spring Madness of Pet Peeves have led to some exciting pairings for next week’s competition, which will determine the Champion Pet Peeve in each of the divisions! Etiquetteer would like to thank everyone to voted, and encourage you all to cast your votes again this week.


First off, and without surprise, “Guests who don’t R.s.v.p.” handily overtook “Lack of information about time, directions, etc.” at 57% to 43%. As a result, this week “Guests who don’t R.s.v.p.” will have to compete with “Couples who don’t send thank-you notes,” which squeaked ahead of “Weddings as fund-raisers for the honeymoon” 52% to 48%. In some ways, Etiquetteer thinks this might be the bloodiest of competitions; each pet peeve involves the lack of a response. But which leaves Etiquetteer readers feeling more disrespected?


It’s interesting to observe that any pet peeve not relating to driving has not advanced in this category. “Drivers who ignore red lights” trounced “Drivers blocking bike lanes” 82% to 18%. “Cell phone use while operating a vehicle” had a less easy time getting ahead of “Illegally parking in handicapped spaces, ” 65% to 35%. And a part of Etiquetteer is disappointed in that, because those who require handicapped parking already have a lot to deal with, and deserve better than to be inconvenienced. But choosing between “Drivers who ignore red lights” and “Cell phone use while operating a vehicle” will surely be a tough call for many.


Here, behaviors that have been pet peeves for centuries won out. The comparatively recent “Texting at the table,” to Etiquetteer’s surprise, didn’t stand a chance against “Chewing with mouth open,” 59% to 41%. It just proves that Etiquetteer really does know only the Very Best People, since it’s been a very long time since anyone’s been witnessed chewing with his or her mouth open. And texting at the table is such a deliberate ignoring of one’s physical companions! Ah well, “Chewing with mouth open” must now fight a steamroller of a pet peeve “Ill-mannered children with complacent parents,” which topped “Cheap tippers” 75% to 25%! “Ill-mannered children with complacent parents” has consistently performed well in Spring Madness, and may well defeat all the competition.


In our last category, the victors came out as Etiquetteer predicted. “Confusing customer service menus” was no match for “Door-to-door solicitors of any kind,” going down 42% to 58%. Then “Loud public cellphone conversations” easily bested “Oversufficient cologne” 64% to 36%. This week’s pairing pits one century against the other, in a way, as the door-to-door thing was so 20th century, and the cellphone thing is, well, so omnipresent.

So keep voting! It will take half as much time every week. And of course if you discover something you think is missing, you may always share it with Etiquetteer at queries@etiquetteer.com.


Texting at Cash Registers, Vol. 14, Issue 16

April 19th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’m here to register another contemporary lack of manners – texting at the cash register. As a preamble, I’m usually pretty chill about navigating public space but several days after this happened, I’m still steamed about it. Here’s what happened:

The day before Passover, I was at a bakery to buy hot cross buns at a popular local food market. There are two lines leading to two cash registers where there’s limited counter space. The woman in front of me was picking up a couple of special order cakes that required special wrapping and bagging. After she received her cakes, she made no effort to leave the counter or even to clear some space for the other people lined up – and she started texting, obviously oblivious to everyone around her. It was not a short text. I was so stunned by her rudeness that I was (perhaps fortunately) speechless. Any words of advice on how to handle this type of situation in the future?

Dear Text-Blocked:

Etiquetteer has often found that a brisk “Excuse me, please!” can be effective in clearing the way. The cashier should have taken the matter in hand by calling out “Next, please!” and waved over the next customer. Should this Oblivious Texter remain just as insulated from the situation as before, you might have approached and said – kindly, without possible annoyance – “Excuse me, but there’s a rather long line behind us.” Saying it kindly is important, as otherwise you might have to have a big discussion about Feelings, which would hold up the line even more. And, as Etiquetteer has said so often before, no one cares How You Feel; you are still expected to behave with Perfect Propriety.

These situations occur more and more frequently as Consideration for Others is no longer thought as important as Personal Convenience. More and more the Perfectly Proper are having to Speak Up to prod the Uncaring into behaving well. Etiquetteer can’t help but be saddened by this state of affairs.


Today is the last day to vote in Round II of Etiquetteer’s Spring Madness of Pet Peeves! It is interesting to note that in Round II, the narrowest splits in the voting have to do with Weddings, while the greatest divide has to do with driving-related peeves. Please vote today! And should you have a pet peeve you need to share with Etiquetteer, send it to queries@etiquetteer.com.

Wedding Gift of Money, Vol. 14, Issue 15

April 17th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

If we are going to give the bride and groom money for a wedding present, is it best to send it to them before the wedding, send it to them after the wedding, or give it to the bride or groom or bride’s father at the wedding?

Dear Moneyed:

Logistically, the most Perfectly Proper thing to do is to mail your gift before the wedding to the member of the Happy Couple you know best. Considering how busy the week before the wedding is, especially for the bride, Etiquetteer thinks it should arrive no later than eight to ten days before the wedding. This shows thoughtfulness to those recipients who take the trouble to send Lovely Notes of Thanks – which all Happy Couples should but don’t – when gifts arrive.

Etiquetteer was just about to remonstrate with you for suggesting slipping a check in care of one of the fathers. After all, these days most Happy Couples are no longer teenagers fresh out of high school; they’re fully functioning adults who ought to be responsible for their own affairs. But then Etiquetteer stopped, remembering that on the Great Day one’s attention is taken up by so many things that it is very easy to forget just about everything one is supposed to do, such as remembering to bring the rings. So if one must bring a gift of money to the wedding itself, entrusting it to a Reliable Parent is better than slipping it into the groom’s jacket pocket, where it might easily remain when returned to the tuxedo rental.

Your query reminded Etiquetteer of the Old Days when wedding gifts used to be displayed at the reception, a custom that happily has faded away. Etiquette writers of yore would advise on how to display checks given as wedding gifts so that the name of the giver was visible, but not the amount. Which just goes to show how manners continue to evolve, and not always for the worse.


Round II of Etiquetteer’s Spring Madness of Pet Peeves remains open for voting! Go here to pick out what peeves you most about weddings, driving and traffic, table manners/dining out, and just in general.

« Previous Entries